- More U.S. residents die from medical errors than from any other cause except heart disease and cancer, according to a study published Tuesday in The BMJ.
- Researchers from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine looked at studies from 1999 onwards and arrived at a mean annual death rate from medical errors of 251,454 individuals.
- The study authors noted the U.S. system for measuring vital statistics should be revised to clarify when deaths are error-related.
Currently, death certificates in the U.S. and 116 other countries have no facility for acknowledging medical error. Death certificates are assigned an ICD code meaning deaths caused by human or system error are not captured.
After the researchers arrived at a mean annual death rate from medical error of 251,454 individuals, they compared the figure to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s annual list of most common causes of death in the U.S. and determined that medical error ranks third in the U.S.
While human error can not be eliminated, the researchers say safer systems can be designed to reduce the frequency and severity of medical errors.
According to the analysis, strategies to reduce care-related deaths should include increasing transparency around medical errors, being ready with remedies to rescue patients and acknowledging when a medical error may have contributed to a death, such as in an extra field on a death certificate.
After heart disease, cancer and medical errors, the most common causes of death were chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, suicide, guns, and motor vehicle accidents.